Part 2 Exercise 2.3

In this exercise, we are instructed to read Sean O’Hagan’s article on the 1975 New Topographics exhibition and watch a video of Lewis Baltz. We are then asked to write down responses to the work of any of the photographers mentioned in the O’Hagan article and thoughts on typological approaches.

O’Hagens Article

O’Hagen examines the influence of William Jenkins’ 1975 exhibition, where he considers the work exhibited to be the linchpin in a turning point in Landscape photography. Jenkins Exhibition brought together a number of photographers who knew each other and who had influenced each other but the exhibition should not be considered as a “collective”. These ‘New Topographics’ allowed photographers to shift their approach of documenting the landscape. Instead of a capturing the romanticised view of the American Landscape, this approach focused instead on the changes made by man on the environment and on how society was exploiting the landscape and the environment.

By focusing on the man-made changes and the encroaching urbanisation and suburbanisation of the land, they documented the unspoiled wilderness of the ‘new frontier’ of Adams and O’Sullivan which was now being sullied and destroyed by the construction of water towers, parking lots, fuelling stations and roadside diners and drive-throughs.

The “New Topograhics” approach of constructing a narrative and vision by placing the image within the frame and isolating it allowed the geometric shape of the structure to be viewed as a shape and to show the viewer something which they regularly see but ignore. By then repeating the same view, angle and post production it shows the rhythmic shape of the narrative, enhancing it bringing to view the things constructed by man that man then ignores.

The ‘New Topograhics” approach can be identified in works such as ‘Ed Ruschas’ “Every building on Sunset Strip”. While this work does not sit tightly with the aesthetic approach outlined by ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher’ it does present a social view of anonymity and abstraction.

Closer to the Becher’s aesthetic and mentioned in O’Hagens article are the works of Frank Gohlke, Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz, Nicholas Nixon, Andreas Gurtsky and the aforementioned Bechers. These photographers wanted to create a family of motifs, a pattern of experiences which the viewer experiences sequentially as they view a network of photographs of objects which have been divorced from their original purpose and everyday function.

Andreas Gurtsky.

Gurtsky is a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher and has cultivated the aesthetic response of the Anonymous Sculpture. Gurtsky tries to draw the viewer away from the transparent notion of representation by purposefully avoiding context and association.

Gurtsky uses a system of rigorous  procedural rules; standardised format and ratio, near identical lighting and a consistent approach to colour, which is a step away from the Becher’s restricted use of black and white photography, as does his use of a higher vantage point which creates a fantasy world, full of human creation but without the human representation.

While Gurtsky could be interpreted as cold and unfeeling, it can be seen that even within the frame he uses the technique of rhythm and repetition to present his view. ‘Rhein II’ is a prime example of this.

Frank Gohike

Gohike as a contemporary of the Bechers, worked on landscapes where man-made constructions competed with nature. He examined how this competition created a frame through which could be seen the way that man has marked the landscape with his own constructions. Grohike frames this aesthetic so that for the most part the suburban or industrial landscape stretches off into the horizon, leaving little room for nature. This scale creates an imbalance in the viewer and questions the viewer’s perceptions of the items within the frame. ‘Grain Elevator and Lightning Flash, Lamesa, Texas, 1975’ is a prime example of Grohike’s work. Here he uses the monochromatic zone approach and values,  which is characteristic of the work of Ansel Adams, to give depth to the scene, but unlike Adams, Grohike focuses on the man-made changes which have created the new landscape.

Like Gurtsky, Grohike for the most part does not represent people within the frame, instead choosing to represent the landscape as a fluid and dynamic relationship with the forces acting upon it, whether they be man-made or natural.



The Guardian. 2018. New Topographics: photographs that find beauty in the banal | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

Media Art Net | Ruscha, Ed: Every Building on the Sunset Strip. 2018. Media Art Net | Ruscha, Ed: Every Building on the Sunset Strip. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

Tate. 2018. ‘The Rhine II’, Andreas Gursky, 1999 | Tate . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

Andreas Gursky | home. 2018. Andreas Gursky | home. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

Places Journal. 2018. Frank Gohlke: Thoughts on Landscape. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

Photography and the Limits of the Document Symposium: video recordings | Tate. 2018. Photography and the Limits of the Document Symposium: video recordings | Tate. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

YouTube. 2018. Photographer Donovan Wylie on his Outposts series – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

YouTube. 2018. Photographer Donovan Wylie on the Maze series and his influences – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 July 2018].

Part 2 Exercise 2.2

The exercise asks that the student chooses a Road Movie and then writes 500 words on the Narrative of the Landscape within the movie.

I chose the Sam Mendes film “Road to Perdition”;

Landscape Narrative – Road Movies – Road to Perdition.

American road movies come out of traditional storytelling which can be traced back to Homer and the Iliad; the main characters of the story undertake a journey where they will have to make choices and face the consequences of decisions made. In Sam Mendes “Road to Perdition”, a father is hiding his mobster life from his family and must go on the run with his surviving son when his wife and other son are murdered because the surviving son witnesses his father and a colleague gun down some men.

Father and son undertake a physical and emotional journey, as the emotionally repressed father tries to save his son and prevent him from becoming like him. In doing so, on the journey the father opens up emotionally to the son and they finally connect.
Mendes uses a number of motifs within the film, but here we will concentrate on only two; water and the landscape. Water in the film is present as a lake, snow, rain and ice and they all represent life and death and the inability of man to change his fate. Landscape is used to represent not only the emotional state of the two main characters but also the narrative boundaries of the tale.

In the beginning, as they start the journey, the landscape is barren and flat, much like the emotional state of the characters. They pass empty fields and empty crossroads. They could deviate at any point, go away from the road and cross the fields abandoning the quest but instead they push onwards through the night into the city. The city is bright, busy and bold, the buildings surround and dominate the landscape and now the roads are filled with cars and the pavements crowded with people. It closes in on them, but at the same time, defends them as they are hard to distinguish from everyone else in such an identikit landscape, full of identical people performing identical tasks. Forced back out of the city, they start to cross the American landscape, which begins to appear like the paintings of Edward Hooper, even the characters themselves when dining look like his paintings. On the run, the two main characters come to the decision to fight back and the landscape reflects that decision by the representation of a piece of road lined on either side by trees. Here, the decision made, the other choices have been discarded and their fate set; now thoughts of abandoning the quest are discarded and the only path is forward.

The film is book ended by a body of water, the same body of water that the son is drawn to and viewing when his father’s fate catches up with him, mortally wounded by his assassin, he tries to clutch at a gun on the floor. His son hearing the shot arrives and picks up the gun but cannot shoot the ‘weegee’ like hit-man. His father understanding that he has succeeded and that his son will not follow in his path, manages to take a gun and kill the hit-man. The sunlit lake becomes the final scene, the sunlight over the water representing a positive future for the son.

The second part of the exercise asks the student to undertake a journey and document the landscape.

In this exercise, I chose to take a trip down to Cove Harbour, where in October 1881, there was a Fishing disaster where 189 fishermen perished in a severe storm.

This is my journey from the village down to the harbour, I had intended on taking these images in good weather but a sea haar still remained on the coast. Continuing with the challenging conditions under foot for me, I decided to photograph anyway in the unusual conditions as I felt that it was a good experience.



IMDB. 2002. Road to Perdition. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 4 June 2018].

Part 2 Exercise 2.1 Territorial Photography

The object of the exercise was to read, note and summarise the main points of Snyder’s essay. The second part of the exercise is to choose a photograph from the two photographers in the essay and show how they fit into the notes made.
Snyder opens his essay with the puzzle of where photography fitted into the arts due to its infancy and in the manner of picture making as it was seen as non-traditional. As there was an evolving belief that photographs were different from fine art techniques, the technique and practice of picture making became more realistic and the appearance of the image made them machine-made rather than traditional man-made. This allowed photographic practitioners the freedom to make images of their own choice and, hand in hand with advances in technology, mass printing of images created postcards and prints of existing known landscapes and views.
These first landscape photographers composed their scenes based on the compositions of landscape painting. They did not frequently step out of these boundaries when composing photographic landscapes. Their work was mainly personal and not for mass consumption. With the burgeoning of photographic image factories there was a need for the creation, print and sale of architecture, travel and landscape prints, usually created by the commercial photographers who did not come from the fine arts background and who therefore were not bound by the rules of composition, but they were bound by the simple fact that as they could not add in anything to add to the aesthetic, they instead had to capture what was in front of the lens.

Synder then proceeds to discuss the work of two landscape photographers, Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan. Watkins was able to define himself by the use of extremely large negatives. E, each 20 by 24 inch image allowed him to capture stunning images of the American West. His Yosemite images made him an international name and his work is held as a standard for his fellow photographers in the American West.

Watkins work is seen as a perfect reproduction of a sight or view. A that anyone who visited the spot would see exactly what Watkins photographed, as was Watkins intention. Watkins was commissioned for the California Geological Survey where his photographs would be used to visually record details mainly for use as scientific evidence for the mining and lumber industries. Following this commission, Watkins worked with the Pacific railroads again recording evidence of the progress they were making in civilising the West. Watkins was able to sympathetically capture the brutal progress that these industries were making on the landscape; using the combination of man-made shapes against the natural environment. Watkins would then tend the image, reducing the tonality so that the middle tones of light and dark became the image’s main point of aesthetical pleasure. Watkins carefully balanced and harmonised his images to control the immensity of his landscapes, creating a view of the American West as an open, inviting, peaceful and beautiful landscape, ready to welcome the covered wagons of settlers.

Working at the same time as Watkins was Timothy O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan had already established himself as a field photographer due to his work as a civilian photographer with the Army of the Potomac.

O’Sullivan accompanied geologist Clarence King on a civilian mission to scientifically map and inventory the American West. O’Sullivan worked alongside scientists, mining engineers, lumbar specialists and land management specialists and viewed his work as mainly record keeping for scientific purposes rather than for public purchase and viewing. It could be said that his images were starker so that Congress who funded these expeditions would continue to fund them. Certainly, King was happy with O’Sullivan’s images stating that they were “generally descriptive” of the areas visited by the expedition. Snyder views O’Sullivan as the antithesis of Watkins, describing his images as contra-invitational, viewing the landscapes portrayed in the images as stark, unsettling and unwelcoming. O’Sullivan’s landscapes are unique as they identify the landscape as the enemy of civilised man, in complete opposition to the work of Watkins. Certainly, some of O’Sullivan’s work can be seen as the photographer versus the landscape, conquering the great unknown to single handily catalogue the unknown west. It can be viewed however that O’Sullivan had a lighter side, shown in Hot Springs Cone (1869) where the head of an assistant sits disembodied atop a mound of rock. The rock cone is hollow and the assistant standing inside the cone tips his head out, a” look at me mum” moment captured by O’Sullivan perhaps to lighten a long and stressful day.

Mainly O’Sullivan used people to highlight the enormous scale of his views, counteracting the human against the volume of stone, water and sky which outweighs him. O’Sullivan carefully balanced the dark and light tones within his images to ensure that he captured both big sky as well as the enormous land below.


Analyse one image from each of the named photographers.

Carleton Watkins


Caleton Watkins Best General View Yosemite Valley

Best General View Yosemite Valley – Carleton Watkins


This is a good example of Snyders point regarding Watkins depiction of the American West, the landscape here is open and welcoming. The ground is rising to meet the viewer and the valley is pristine and clean. A waterfall can be seen in the midground demonstrating that the land is habitable and the valley itself is bright and non-threatening. Watkins has ensured that there are no deep dark tones within the valley and the whole image is a clean commercial image which will be easy to print and sell. It is as Watkins stated an accurate record detached from artistic endeavour and is non-interpretive as a “mechanical record” of the landscape can be. This image is reminiscent of the work of A.B. Durand who was painting the Appalachian mountains in the same period, however, Durand’s work is a more idealised landscape rather than Watkins truer representations.

Timothy O’Sullivan



Canon de Chelle. Walls of the Grand Canon about 1200 feet in Height.


Timothy O’O’Sullivan’sandscape here has no real commercial resale value for mass public printing, it shows a landscape where people are dwarfed by the unwelcoming rocks which surround them. O’Sullivans’ image has dark heavy tones throughout and parts of the landscape hide in shadow, unseen to the eye. This is a prime example of Snyders claim that the work is non invitational, here the surveys team tents are tiny wooden and cloth constructions, temporary and insignificant against the rock which looks ready to cartwheel down and crush them.


Looking through the collections of Watkins and O’Sullivan’s work it can be shown that Snyder is correct in his assessment of the work of both men during this period. However, there are a number of O’Sullivan’s works which deviate from Snyders claim that his work is less invitational that Watkins; as these images show a stark beauty to the landscape which with a little viewing can be seen to be more open and welcoming than when first assessed.


J., W., 2002. Landscape and Power. University of Chicago Press. (2018). Timothy O’Sullivan as seen by Ansel Adams in the 1930s. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Rod Giblett (2009) Wilderness to wasteland in the photography of the American west, Continuum, 23:1, 43-52, DOI: 10.1080/10304310802570866

The Photographs of Carleton Watkins. 2018. The Photographs of Carleton Watkins. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2018].

Smithsonian American Art Museum. 2018. Timothy H. O’Sullivan | Smithsonian American Art Museum. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2018].

The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. 2018. Timothy H. O’Sullivan (Getty Museum). [ONLINE] Available at:’sullivan-american-about-1840-1882/. [Accessed 30 April 2018].

Author: Kevin J. Avery. 2018. Asher Brown Durand (1796–1886) | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 01 May 2018].






Assignment 1. Beauty and the Sublime. 

Interpreting the brief

The brief for this Assignment reminds you that it may feed into Assignment 6 at the end of the course. The brief here is open for some interpretation as it asks for between 6 and 12 images which convey from the photographers’ point of view, beauty and sublime.

The terms beauty and sublime have over the years had a number of definitions and the terms themselves have broadly lost their artistic values due to misuse and misinterpretation. One only has to look at the number of different uses and identities that Sublime has within the book ‘The Sublime’ to see how devalued the word has become.

I wanted to return to the ‘as near as the original’ definitions as possible for applying them to my interpretations on landscape photography

In this series of pictures, I settled on trying to capture some of the imbalance as described in Exercise 1.9. I wanted to see if I could get both sides of a social contrast within a single scene.

I wanted to capture the changes in Leith, which was a port town before being merged into the City of Edinburgh. The port of Leith was one of the industrial hearts of the city. The large ports and docks built, maintained and broke ships as well as handling cargo destined not only for the City but for locations to the north, south, east and west of the city. It was the first port of call for any immigrant to the area and provided many jobs on the docks and beyond for many residents. The area is now undergoing a large social change as buildings have been knocked down or repurposed for luxury housing, student housing, shops, malls, casinos and large-scale housing developments.

Visual Culture

Using landscape painting as a jumping off point for this assignment, I knew that I wanted to go to beyond the limitations of what I could see within the scene through the viewfinder. I felt that I could go outside the limitations of a 35mm frame by accepting that I could expand the visual canvas as the original landscape painters had done. With this in mind, I wanted at least a few of the scene to be stitched together from several images to provide a final image.

Images for Assignment 1.

Using my knowledge of the red filter for Black and White exposures, I wanted to get both the sky and the cityscape exposed properly together. After taking a light exposure reading, I set the camera to manual and chose the f-stop and the exposure speed which best suited the whole of the scene. After taking the images I then stitched the 7 exposures together in photoshop to produce the final scene.



East Dock Entrance.


Entering the broken gates of the port, the gatehouse, longshoremen housing and storehouses are gone. Expensive housing has been built and a casino sited at a loading point. The cargo cranes are abandoned, unmaintained and rotting, providing housing for wild pigeons and gulls. Further expansion is planned as dockland is cleared awaiting the return of developers. 


Sitting behind an expansive mall is the Royal Yacht Britannia, it rests in a berthing area where ships would have unloaded grain. Now visitors can view the recovered land where large-scale houses rapidly rise on ground made up of broken buildings and dirt. They can view the rotting spine of a loaders platform as it dissolves into the sea and view the refueling of cable laying ships and mobile oil and gas exploration ships. 



Britannia to rotting docks.

I stitched together 9 images to make this panorama. I wanted to capture the wide expanse of the area as well as the emptiness of it.  



The central point of this image is around about the 500-foot mark of the original sea wall, meaning that originally I would have been 500 feet from real dry land. When it was built it was a berthing and rest area for local shipping. During a storm the entire dock area would fill with ships seeking protection from rough seas. The lighthouse would have been the beacon that many sailors would have been happy to see on a rough day 



Lighthouse to recovered land.


The lighthouse now lies empty, graffiti covered, its rooms, platform and the area underneath, between the supporting columns is an area for underage drinking and drug use. Stretching off into the distance is what is left of the ports and dry docks. The large mall and parking structure sits behind the royal yacht and nearly everything to the right is reclaimed land. Developers have pushed down the buildings and are slowly turning the land over to luxury housing. Many of the houses at Platinum point are beyond the reach of many locals who cannot afford the £265,000 for a 2-bedroom apartment. 




Platinum point pool.


Due to the worldwide collapse of markets, the development of the area has stopped while the developers build on a smaller scale in other parts of the area. This has left the planned plots to fill as lagoon sites and the plots have become a housing for wildlife. It is only a matter of time before this pond it taken back by concrete and steel and the wildlife pushed further away. In the meantime, this plot reminds the apartment owners that their houses are built on nothing more than temporary land and at some point, the sea will reclaim it. 




Unused plot and road.


As already stated the developers have built amenities and infrastructure for houses which they have not yet built. Nature is trying to claim back the land, helped in part by residents who, having left, have dumped their patio plants onto the scrubland. These plants are beginning to take root and will potentially cause more problems in the future. Until then, the area is used by dog walkers, teen bike riders, and wanderers. 




Behind the Gasworks.


The now unused gas tank dominates the skyline, it can be seen for miles. There used to be two such structures here before the first was taken down so that a small mall could be built as an amenities service for the local area. It is smaller areas like these that the developers have moved on to, throwing up student and luxury housing with the minimum of social housing within it. Until they start building the land lies unused, the skeletal remains of demolished buildings pointing out the last indications of local history.

Self-evaluation of the work

These images were not the ones that I originally planned for the assignment. I had planned on more Turneresque landscapes and it was only when I was in discussion with my Tutor prior to undertaking this Assignment that I changed direction and looked towards social politics through landscape.

I wanted to rekindle some of the social discourse that I had in my last course,  to examine what changes are happening during the gentrification of an area I knew well, along with documenting the rapid loss of local history as buildings are torn down in the rush to build houses that no one can afford.

Having decided on very wide landscapes I had to make my mind up on how I wanted to do it. I knew that I could not regiment the number of exposures needed as I would have to overlap and get in camera all of the landscape that I needed in one set.

Having no car and having to rely on a driver I had to plan the route carefully so that I would get everything I wanted in one day, otherwise, it could be two or three weeks before they were available again [and this would have up my course timetable completion into doubt].

I was pleased with the plan and although it was a difficult day I feel that I achieved what I set out to do.  While not all the landscapes stitched together I was able to fall back on some of the single images that I had taken which I felt also suited the series.

Contact Sheet.

Full contact sheet of images taken for this assignment.

Technical Choices

All of the images were taken either handheld or supported by a crutch used as an improved monopod. I decided to apply filters in post-production as I was interchanging lenses and the filters that I  have do not go up to 62mm. I chose Black and White for most of the images as I felt that they best represented the mood of the image. In a couple of the images I also boosted the saturation to see what happened with the colours but in most cases, single bright objects overtook the scene and pulled the eye away.


Visual Outcomes

The framings for these images are a response to the framings from paintings I have seen as part of this course. I wanted to get the scale of each scene, in such a way that at times the viewer is overpowered by the scale and may feel some vertigo as the image slips under their feet.

Over the day I made a number of images and through careful selection finally settled on the six that represent my interpretation of beauty and the sublime. In three of the images, I pushed my experimental boundaries to obtain a challenging series of images, where I have tried to define and express my emotions within the scene.

I tried to get both beauty and sublime within the same frame. Those that present my interpretation of the sublime were executed in a similar vein but I tried to continue the visual series with contrasting light and shadow.

I feel that they also have an uncertainty as they diversify from the weather conditions in which they were taken.

Reflection on assessment criteria

Overall, I am happy with this first assignment even with the personal challenges I had before, during and after the shoot. So far the coursework has guided me and encouraged me to undertake research into an area that I have not been exposed to much so far. It has given me some more creative ideas and techniques which I hope to carry on into the rest of the course.


Anon, 2010. The Sublime. (s.n.).

Roberts, R., 2011. Edgelands. Michael Symmons Roberts, Paul Farley. (s.n.).




Minor Delay on Assignment 1

Whilst working on Exercise 1.8, I had a minor accident which stopped me continuing to work on Exercise as well as on the Assignment.

While crossing a street, I slipped and fell, bruising myself quite badly and breaking one of my crutches in two. The fact that I almost went under a bus (green man crossing timings are too quick for some disabled people) has also had a knock on my confidence.


Exercise 1.8 – The Zone System

After reviewing the exercise, I recalled an image I had taken many years ago as part of a group who took one photograph a day and posted online. The image no longer exists but I knew that it was the type of image which may benefit from using the zone system.

After reading about the zone system and reading parts of Ansel Adams ‘The Negative’. I decided that I would take the opportunity of taking some related images after attending an appointment with the eye hospital in Edinburgh.

Since I was attending the hospital I only had a mobile phone with me and I knew that I would have to use it to obtain the images. Luckily the device has a option of both live view and the ability to change the explosive through a digital spot meter. While this was a challenge I knew that with a bit of planning I could manage to at least scout the areas and take preliminary images at the very least.

The day before I was attending the hospital I was watching the BBC television program “Civilisations”, a small part of the program was dedicated to Adams and his photography; one of the salient points from the program was that Adams regularly used a red filter I front of his lens when photographing.
With that in mind I knew that whatever images I took I would not only be converting to black and white but first I would be adding a red filter to the image through Photoshop.

When I arrived at my location I was already a bit fatigued from my hospital appointment and having fluorescein pushed though my body, so I was a bit unsteady, so I sat or leant against a wall for these images using one of my crutches as a form of monopod to support my hand.

zones 4

zone 3

The image was slightly easier as I knew that there wold be greater support, at least a wall and a handrail or a large Victorian metal fence to lean on.

zoness 2

Again I knew that I would have support near the ground level.

Zones 1

I was satisfied with these images, I continued to experiment with the zone system at a location near the house and managed to capture this scene between snow showers.

Zone number 2 fence


Below is a collection of other images captured during these days which were considered for the exercise.



The zone system is fascinating and I can see where I have at times already wrong in previous landscape in not taking into account the entire zone system when photographing.

As an aside I was amused by the 11 zones, which may have been the original source of the joke “But this goes up to 11” from the film ‘Spinal Tap’


Adams, A., 1995. The Negative (The Ansel Adams Photography Series, No. 2). Bulfinch.

BBC. 2018. BBC – Civilisations. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 March 2018].

Rob Reiner and Micheal McKean. (1984). Spinal Tap. [Online Video]. Clip “This goes to 11” Available from: [Accessed: 28 March 2018].